Avoiding training camp tropes can be difficult. Typically, the defense finds its footing before the offense; especially with a new offensive coordinator introducing new terminology against a system on the other side that is entering Year 2 under Brian Flores.
Practice concluded with a fired up defensive sideline. Defense vs. offense was the theme of the day as the two-hour practiced featured a pair of 11-on-11 sessions and wrapped up with red zone and two-minute drill work.
With only 23 days until the Dolphins tee it up against division rival New England, Flores was asked about different ways he can accelerate the learning and preparation process in this truncated training camp.
"I try to use every team period as a scrimmage," Flores said before practice. "It's something we've talked about. We may or may not do something like (scrimmage). All we have is practice. We evaluate practice. We don't have the preseason games. We're trying to create situations to see whether or not that decision-making process is where we need it to be."
On the Drive Time Training Camp Special, we detailed a portion of Tuesday's practice covering Dolphins safety Bobby McCain. McCain drilled a technique in individual work and later applied it to the scrimmage period of the day.
The defense was at it again, this time with Emmanuel Ogbah and Shaq Lawson – a pair of free agent acquisitions to the Dolphins defensive front. During a rest and hydration period, Lawson and Ogbah were taking turns working punch and hand-placement drills. The pair also teamed up in pass rush drills executing games to create confusion in the pass protection scheme.
Both turned up in the stat sheet during 11-on-11 with sacks and pressures on the Dolphins quarterbacks.
Rookie safety Brandon Jones is a quick study. Like McCain earlier in the week, Jones flashed sideline-to-sideline range by tracking deep passes in the individual period. The drill proved valuable later when Jones closed down on a sideline shot to fullback Chandler Cox and caused an incomplete pass from Tua Tagovailoa.
"I'm just literally staying under the older guys' wings," Jones said. "Learning as much as I can possible and then during practice, mistakes are going to happen, especially a lot of this is new for me, especially being in-person seeing stuff."
Jones played all over the Longhorns defense in his Texas career. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones played 371 snaps in the slot, 285 as a free safety and 154 in the box in more of a strong safety role.
Flores and General Manager Chris Grier alluded to Jones' diverse skill set as one of the preferred traits he offered back on draft day. Jones discussed his versatility on Friday after practice.
"I'm open to whatever gets me on the field as fast as possible and whatever I can do to help the team, whether it's lining up in the slot at nickel, lining at high safety, strong safety; I'm just here to do what I can to make the team better, and I have been working kind of everywhere," Jones said.
"Our coach wants to be able to be multiple and be able to play different positions because you never know what can happen at the end of the day, so I've definitely been working kind of everywhere."
The tune is similar for linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, who was acquired as a free agent from the Eagles this offseason. He discussed his feelings about playing in a new defense for a coach he is reuniting with in Miami.
"I love it, and it's a big reason why I'm even here," Grugier-Hill said. "There's so many different things that we can do with this defense and it really keeps everyone very diverse and asks everyone to do multiple things. That's exciting for me. It's very different, but I'm getting used to it and I'm loving it."
Grugier-Hill played 244 snaps in the box last season in Philadelphia, Pro Football Focus' distinction for an off-ball linebacker. In addition to 125 snaps across the four special teams units, the Grugier-Hill also played 56 snaps at positions not classified as "in the box."
As seen on his Instagram story earlier in the week, Grugier-Hill has bonded well with the other Hawaii native on the roster in Tagovailoa. Those two made an instant connection and already share a special bond, but those relationships aren't exclusive to one or two guys on the team.
"I think this locker room, it's a young team. Everyone's hungry," Grugier-Hill said. "Everyone's coming in and wanting to work. I think it's easy when everyone is so young and around the same age and stuff like that, for the team to kind of have a lot in common. It's just a real friendly, family-oriented locker room."
Versatility isn't just for the defensive side of the football. With their final pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Dolphins selected Navy do-it-all weapon Malcolm Perry. Perry is listed as a running back on the team's roster, but arrives with quarterback, slot back, wide receiver and running back experience from his college days.
Perry talked about his early acclimation into the NFL as a player with a wide range of skills.
"Any opportunity to touch the field at any position, I'm all for it," Perry said. "Just getting out there, learning from the guys on the team that play the same position – mirroring them, seeing what they're doing, asking them questions and trying to learn everything from them, their mistakes, what they do right, stuff like that and try to use it to my advantage."
Perry finished second in college football with 2,017 rushing yards in 2019. He racked up those yards as a quarterback, but also caught three touchdowns and gained 470 yards as a collegiate receiver.
The main event matchup
Today's premier matchup didn't necessarily pit the two participants against one-another frequently, but the two reps in individual drills set a tone for the rest of practice.
Emmanuel Ogbah – whose 35-inch arms measure in the 94th percentile of the league – has been giving the Dolphins offensive line fits all week. He's paired that length with an explosive first step and 275-pound frame to get his opposition off balance before he overwhelms them with speed, power or a combination of both.
Ogbah was a menace on Friday regularly showing up in the backfield.
The worthiest contender on the day might've been rookie offensive tackle Austin Jackson. The USC product – who scored a 9.47 (out of 10) on Kent Platte's Relative Athletic Scorecard – showed his impressive explosiveness and athleticism to match Ogbah.
Where Ogbah puts so much stress on the man across from him to urgently get into his set and work to stay on balance, Jackson's smooth kick-slide and ever-present movement skills allow him to mirror and redirect when Ogbah empties his bag of tricks.
The two split a pair of head-to-head reps in one-on-one, then would go on to perform admirably in the team period. Jackson sprung a big run by quickly getting into a pass set by drawing the force defender (man responsible for funneling the play inside) upfield, then sealed the lane for the back to explode through to the second level.
Ogbah picked up a sack and a tackle-for-loss in the team period.
The offense and defense exchanged blows with game-altering plays. The defense had the advantage as they were able to secure takeaways while the offense's big plays picked up chunk yardage, but rarely put points on the board.
It's difficult to declare any running play as a lengthy touchdown when the defense is tagging off, but Myles Gaskin finished a run 75-yards downfield, which lends some credibility to the idea he might've actually scored in a live situation. Gaskin's ability to press the line and make a quick decision to change the angle on tacklers has been on display all week.
Jordan Howard hit another big run – his fourth of the week. On Thursday, Running Backs Coach Eric Studesville complimented Howard's vision and jump-cut ability – precisely the attributes that sprung Howard on a run where he didn't find signifant contact until he met Bobby McCain 15 yards downfield.
The first interception of the day was secured by Breon Borders. Tagovailoa and his receiver were on different pages as the ball went to one spot and the target to another. Borders capitalized, squeezed it and brought it back for six.
The next turnover for the rookie quarterback came at the hands of fellow 2020 first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene. The former Auburn receiver converted to corner capped off an impressive day with his best rep by tracking Jakeem Grant down the sideline stride-for-stride. Igbinoghene pinned Grant, creating a small window, and played the ball like a wide receiver. He bounced to his feet and spiked the ball in celebration, much to the satisfaction of the Dolphins defense.
Tagovailoa and Grant connected earlier on the day for big yardage. With Grant beyond the defense, the southpaw loaded up and took his shot. Grant came back to the ball and secured it for at least 50 yards.
On the play before the Igbinoghene interception, Tagovailoa found Isaiah Ford for a big gainer. Ford ran a deep crossing route with a trail defender. Tagovailoa located the ball over the head of the defensive back and Ford elevated for the catch – good for about a 35-yard gain.
Bobby McCain came free on a blitz and would've had a free run for a sack in the team period.
Kyle Van Noy flattens the edge with length, strength and balance, and he used those traits to pick up a would-be sack on Friday.
Attendance and injuries
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and safety Kavon Frazier were not at practice on Friday. Flores listed personal reasons for the absences in his Friday morning media availability.
Pre-practice routines don't typically provide much of a story, but some interactions can be intriguing. For instance, Michael Deiter and Keaton Sutherland were having a relatively animated discussion as the pair were demonstrating pass sets and working on hand placement before practice started.
That's been a theme so far at Dolphins camp. Players are engaged. Even when not involved in the huddle, guys are off to the side soaking up mental reps and asking questions.
DeVante Parker and Preston Williams continue to make plays. Williams had a banner day with a number of highlight catches. Both players garner a lot of trust from the quarterback because of their ability to make plays when the passing lane is razor thin.
Chandler Cox continues to be active on offense, throwing a lot of big blocks from his fullback spot.
Solomon Kindley and Danny Isidora performed well in the one-on-one drills. The offensive line as a whole handled their own as the unit congratulated one another at the conclusion of the drill.
Elandon Roberts makes multiple plays every practice. He was praised both in college and as a pro for his instincts, and he's often to the football before the offense even knows how he got there.
Tae Hayes has the temperament needed to play corner. At 5-9, he's at a significant height disadvantage against several of the Dolphins tall receivers, but he competes on every rep.
Nik Needham continues his solid play. He works before and after practice on a variety of drills and rarely gets tested in the team period.